Writing 101 Day 14 To Whom it May Concern- The Letter I can’t send

A note to my readers. The instructions of Day 14 are as follows.

Today’s Prompt: Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there. Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter. SO… I opened the book and the first thing I see is LETTER, (it was written in bold letters) and then there was a picture of a woman who looks like she is regal. My mother loves all things queenly. In actuality I wrote this letter to her several years ago and titled it the letter I can’t send. I’ve been debating publishing it and have decided in the past it is too personal. When I sat down and opened the book, it occurred to me that I could publish it and it fit the spirit of the assignment. I’ve taken out names, because although this story is my truth, I’m respectful of the thought that for my mother, father and sibling, my truth is not theirs. Truths can be divisive. SO, (deep breath) here goes.

Dear Mom,

I saw your hands in mine tonight. Your fingers appeared as I was making a blueberry buckle. Remember when you would make that for us when we were growing up? It is one of the happy memories of my childhood. One of the recipes that you passed down to me by giving me your red checkered cookbook.  Do you remember that day too, Mom? The day before my wedding you took all the cookbooks you hadn’t already thrown away. You were in a screaming rage and you threw them all at me on my bed, yelling at me to take them. We were in my bedroom, with the lovely flowers dad had painted for me on the aqua windowsills.  My bedroom you would redo, selling my furniture before I was out the door. In those last few days before I left your home you made sure I knew it was time to go.

There is often stress around life events, but I’d come to be hyper vigilant regarding these screaming fits of yours and try not to cross you, believing for years it was my fault. There was often, no way to know what would cause such rage. Where was your happiness for me, Mom? What stopped you from throwing your arms around me and telling me I’d picked a wonderful man? Even then, before I had realized it would be up to me to say enough, to finally stop you from hurting us directly these thirty years later, our happiness only made you angry. You could act like you felt happy for strangers, and maybe you felt it for my sibling.

As I cream the shortening you no longer eat, I remember the fun we had when you could keep your rage under control, Mom. When your words were not like nails on a chalk board. Cruel shrill shrieks that pierced with wounds that still have power to sting.The days when I wasn’t terrified of you, when you taught me how to cook, or took care of me when I had an ear infection, I had a lot of those when I was younger. I learned to love ritual and find the connection of it with food.  As I measure the flour and blend it with the baking powder I wonder what kind of unhappiness I’d visit upon you if I told you that I learned in part to love tradition and ritual and religion through these experiences of you and food, my earliest experiences.

You often said that when I was little we got along well.  Did it ever occur to you that little children are totally dependent on their parents? We need you not just for food and shelter but for acceptance, for safety, for knowing that we are loved in spite of who we are, not just because of. Actually, we need your acceptance, love, and we look for your approval no matter how old we are.

I wanted to go places with friends. None of them ever met your standards.The older I got, the more I wanted to try things out. The more our lives didn’t work. As though we lost the rhythm of those cooking times, those apple pie afternoons, those days of apple picking; a treasured tradition in my family now, even with adult children, who might humor me, but who come all the same.

All the recipes you tossed the day you heard that butter was bad and no one should eat all the treasured foods of my childhood. In one fell swoop, your impulsive and compulsive need to control the uncontrollable. Your mania overcame you and with it went the possibility that before my wedding or when your grandchildren became adults you could pass along your amazing crescent cookies shared at an annual cookie exchange. Or the crab meat appetizers I can never figure out how to recreate or even explain. Remember the time we put the apple pie in the oven and went to see Take the Money and Run? We came back and the pre set on the oven hadn’t worked right, the pies looked like over sized charcoal briquettes. Even that was a great food memory.

You were such a talented cook, setting stunning tables, throwing dinner parties and putting on a good show.  But often after the parties were over there would be the fighting with your own parents. Their unreasonable expectations and demands, which you have romanticized. Then with Dad, the yelling the tears, the drama. Somewhere in the earlier years of your life I can’t believe that this is what you hoped for.

The blueberries are plump and sweet and I pluck a few from the colander before they top the sticky dough in the pan.  I tell myself that perhaps you couldn’t follow the recipes anymore. You were the rule maker. The creator of the recipe of what a child should be. For half a century I’ve been trying to measure up.  Always an under performer according to you. Caught in the middle of being a daughter, a wife, a mother and trying to get it right.  What ingredient did I miss?  When will I get it right?  Where is the recipe? When I think I know it, even by your recipe, you change an ingredient. How does a daughter explain a mother who does not know how to mother to her own children? How does a daughter decide to forge ahead, trying to put her own needs aside, at what cost? Where is the recipe that could make us right?  Where is the answer that would allow me to release this struggle?  When does a daughter stop being a daughter? When does a mother need to let go of her own to be a better mother to her children?

From the time I was a teenager things were not so good, although I can see that we both tried in different ways. I own having trouble forgiving you for opening my mail, for your controlling ways, for assuming the worst of me. I was a kid mom. Kids make mistakes and need a safe place to do so. I see the loving things you tried to do.  A sweet sixteen party.  How did you know to invite all the people you did? The time I was in a car accident and I was so scared to tell you and Dad. It wasn’t my fault but I was terrified. You were great. How many times can I tell you I appreciate you and am grateful for things you and Dad did? Will you ever hear? You have stored up mistakes I’ve made since I was a little girl, even dating them. Telling the family therapist you now insist we see, (even though our pleas fell on deaf ears years ago), “when she was eight she… and we can’t move ahead until we resolve this issue.” But I’ve learned that there is no resolution, Mom because you never forget or forgive and you are always right. Increasingly, for me and for you it seems that getting it right means not being in touch.

Deciding that 2 cups of blueberries isn’t enough I double the fruit and my hands become my own again. There is no recipe Mom. Just as there is no card for mothers and daughters that acknowledges our kind of relationship. For us, mother’s day is just another Sunday. You are my mother. You would not have chosen me for your daughter. Odds are you would have only chosen sons. It seems an easier fit.  Knowing this is painful but acknowledging it is part of my recipe. You can’t antagonize me anymore.

Some families are born. Some made by choice. Some work, some don’t. What we want to work doesn’t always, Cakes rise and fall. Ingredients come and go. Recipes change.  My blueberry buckle recipe now sits in a larger than called for pan to spread out the cakey bottom. I find it a medium for the doubled blueberries and the tripled crumbled topping. The top two layers seem weighty and I thought they would sink the cake at first but it rises in spite of itself. Or because of its sturdy underpinnings? I don’t know Mom. But thank you for the recipe. And, for its ability to stand up to my creativity, my playfulness and for its being a part of our heritage.

Blueberry Buckle

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries Double the Blueberries
  • TOPPING: Triple the recipe
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Nutritional information (without changing the recipe)

1 serving (1 piece) equals 317 calories, 13 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 44 mg cholesterol, 297 mg sodium, 47 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein.


  1. In a medium bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Beat in egg. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add alternately with milk to creamed mixture. Pour into a  lightly greased 11 x 7 -in. square baking pan. Arrange blueberries on top.
  2. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar. Combine flour and cinnamon; add gradually to creamed mixture. Crumble over blueberries. Bake until the cake is set and the topping is a golden brown.
  3. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes. Yield: 9 servings.

Travelling the Road Part two writing 101


By the time I became the first ever board certified chaplain in my healthcare system, no seminary, no college, no ecclesiastical endorsement ( a statement from the ordaining denomination), and only one unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) or some church experience was required to become a chaplain in our system. My departmental manager’s lack of credentials had become departmental standards. I had worked to become an asset, in a system where negative consequences were now the rule for positive achievement. Trusted friends responded with sadness, compassion and understanding when I told them it was time to go.

I spend my days in relief and in grief. Relief from the stress of departmental policies, grief in this seemingly unfathomable outcome. It is as if someone is throwing a switch I seem to have no control over. Relief at not having to wonder whether I’ll trigger an office land mine for accomplishments I’ve worked for. Grief over the loss of work friends. Relief at being able to express myself without fear of reprisal. Grief over the loss of working with a staff chaplain who could finish my sentences. Relief that I have time to tend to the stuff piling up at home. Grief over reluctantly giving up work that I love.

It is easier to surround oneself with the burdens of others. This is particularly true in hospital ministry where a loss of a limb or an impending death is right in front of you. There is less time to think of one’s own concerns when caregiving to another. There was comfort in being too busy and wishing for time to do what I want. Now I have time; Where did all those things I want to do go? I am on a new path and I don’t know the way. My steps are uncertain. I don’t know this path.  The road signs seem to have vanished. Who am I, if not a chaplain?

Writing 101 Day Twelve – How can I forget?

Day Twelve: Dark Clouds on the (Virtual) Horizon

Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.

We don’t write in a bubble — we write in the world, and what we say is influenced by our experiences. Today, take a cue from something you’ve overheard and write a post inspired by a real-life conversation. Revisit a time when you wish you’d spoken up, reminisce about an important conversation that will always stick with you, or tune in to a conversation happening around you right now and write your reaction.

Take time to listen — to what you hear around you, or what your memories stir up.

Here is my post.

On a dark and dreary day, I was waiting for a train. The sky was overcast, the kind of weather where it appears to be Autumn, but in actuality is April. The kind of weather that looks like a downpour, but restrains itself to on the verge of a downpour for the rest of the day.

In terms of conversations, it wasn’t much. What got me was what wasn’t said as well as what I heard. Two people, a man and woman. Both had tears in their eyes and on their faces. They were in an embrace, and she turned to him and said, I’ll never forget.” He took his handkerchief and wiped her eyes. She grabbed his hand and wiped the tears on his cheek with the handkerchief. The pull of their feelings for each other was undeniable and I wanted to stay in the presence of their moment as much as they did not want to leave it. It was as if they were writing a story I had to know more about.

I’ve thought of them, since I first bore witness to some kind of powerful, possibly heartbreaking leave-taking. I’ve considered the reasons they were not going to be together.

In my mind I hear the conversation that did not take place. I’ve wondered if they were long lost siblings, separated at birth and reuniting. Ive wondered about their situation. Was it about meeting the love of your life and not being able to commit to them for reasons of employment, engagement, or fear of commitment?  I’ve wondered if they were once in love and had been unable to work out differences. I’ve wondered if they were having an affair.

Various conversations play in my head around the scene I saw.

She: I can’t believe we’ve found each other.

He: They told me the records were sealed. How did you do it?

She: It doesn’t matter I just knew I wanted to meet you after all these years. I thought that we’d never find each other. You are my baby brother.

He: This day will always stay with me. I wish we didn’t live a continent away from each other.

She I’ll never forget…


He: If we’d only been able to work out the commute.

She: You know I can’t leave my family, they need me now.

He: wearliy I understand, and support you.

She: I’ll forever hold you in my heart.

He: Words will never express how much you mean to me.

She:  I’ll never forget…


She: I love you

He: We will never be a good fit. You will always be searching for something, always trying to climb the corporate ladder.

She: And you will always be married.

He: I can’t leave my wife.

She: I’ll never forget…

Whoever they are, where ever they are, whatever the circumstances, I’ll never know. They inform my life, when I recall them, because their lives were deep rich, full and complicated like most of ours. Because despite whatever sadness invaded their situation the love seemed to overpower it. Because I don’t know the end of their story, my own story, or many of the stories I get involved in. Because they said so little and yet did not need words to say so much.

I’ll never forget…

Writing 101 Day Eleven Home

Although not my home until 12 years past twelve years old, this home holds much of my heart. When I walked into it, I knew we were supposed to live there. There have been only two times in my life when I’ve felt that strong sense of pull towards a place. Didn’t think much about logistics. Didn’t know if we could even afford it. We were not sure we would even get a chance to see it as the realtor who listed it had a contingency on it for a family member. She did not want it shown. It was an old farm house built in the 19th century. Bull’s eye molding, painted white, around all the entryways to each room. There were two rooms that were my home within this home. A small den off the dining room. Yes, it did have 1970’s inspired olive green shag carpeting. But what I loved most about it was the coziness of this 8 by 10 foot room. The exterior wall had built in bookshelves, wall to wall. I thought it was palatial.  I could not believe we were actually able to buy it. It was ours!

The next room I loved was the kitchen. Another built in, this was the original cupboard to the farmhouse kitchen. Beautiful glass doors to the upper part of the cupboard. An Old Flour Bin, that hinged and was lined so that 25 pounds or so of flour could be stored there. A side porch off the kitchen, where a raccoon once attacked the screen on a big back window and decided to stroll on in and check things out.

Still newly wed, we sustained the loss of my husband’s sister in the shelter of that sturdy old house. We brought our babies home to that house and watched them each sit up, say their first words, and take their first franken-like steps in that space.

When we no longer fit in it, toys and trappings of young children crowding that space we decided to find bigger quarters. A creature who loves the safety and comforts of home, I struggled, and could barely say goodbye to it.

I find myself, all these years later, in the safety and comfort of the second space I longed to make my home.  Every days it is a blessing to look out the window and to give thanks for this space. The space that our children have now all left, but that belongs to us and that I hope is a welcome harbor to them and their families when they visit.

I’m grateful for the ability to write this. It has afforded me the opportunity to properly giving thanks for that old home. A family was created there. I became a mother there. Some of my happiest memories took place there. It is forever a part of my heart.

Writing 101 Day 6 and 7 Sunlight and Shadow

Today I’ve decided to combine two assignments to create a character study in contrasts.

One minute exuberant,  the next subdued she changes almost as often as the weather.  Sunny and warm, cold and aloof, one never knows. Her good humor lights the room when she walks in and folks cannot Help being draw to her like a moth to a flame. Her light is bright and yet if you get too close you will be burned. She can be dangerous.

If you wish to be in her good graces, you must know the rules. The problem is that the rules change on her whim. When you do not “obey” the rules of engagement as she currently understands them, prepare for the fury of tornadic intensity. Once you set off the storm, it can last for days that turn into months.

She cannot seem to help it. Her life has been full of unresolved pain. The problem is, like an overstuffed closet, the items that haunt her spill out at those she says she loves. The ones she wanted love from caused her damage from their own personal storms, and the unaddressed wreckage has lasted all of her life. She sees nothing strange in her behavior and is unaware that the fury she spouts hits others. Like steam from a boiling kettle; get too close and you will get burned. It is when the spray seems harmless that one tends to overlook safety precautions. This is when those who encounter her are most vulnerable. She could be anyone you know. She is a narcissist.

Writing 101 Day Five A Red Letter Day

Day Five: Be Brief

Today’s Prompt: You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter. Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

Pearl walked on, hating her mother and her miserable life. Rev. Arthur would be waiting. Wind compounded the morning chill. Trudging along, a crumpled envelope danced by. She chased and caught it. Why? What did she want with a soggy letter? Noticing it was half opened, curiosity overcame her. Who could it hurt? The red ink was smeared. What she deciphered made her queasy.

Dear H,

My time grows short…

Indebted to your sacrifice…

Served my church… Love always, “A.”

Struggling to digest the contents of the letter, her cell rang. Hester blinked on the screen.  Pearl dropped the phone.

Travelling the road- part one Writing 101 Day Four

Each day I take my greyhound and my chihuahua on long walks through the country roads of the tiny village I live in. A small woman, between two extremes, we catch the eyes of many commuters. Our definitions of walking are somewhat
different. My idea of walking is to get exercise and watch the natural world as I pass by. It is a time for processing life events, time away from the activities of my personal and/or professional life. I walk to disconnect.

The dogs believe a walk is for scratching the dirt, sniffing under the leaves, looking below the surface, and uncovering their dog truths. They seek to connection with their world beyond the house. They love to check things out. While they are checking I watch for my everyday connection with strangers. There are those I wave to, who without a word between us have become important to the start of my day.

This is the way that chaplaincy entered my life. Clinical pastoral education was a seminary requirement, not a career option. All of a sudden it became an important start to my day. Initially, I understood that seminary was my way of becoming the best religious educator I could be. This is only one of the ways in which my theological education would expand my understanding of caring for others and changing my own life. Once I experienced hospital ministry I came to understand the real reason I went to seminary. Chaplaincy became the goal and board certification as a chaplain, the standard I set my sights on. This goal took me for an unanticipated journey that included four Clinical Pastoral Education units (CPE to the initiated), one ordination, one denominational endorsement, one appearance to yet another group for the granting of board certification Ten years of hospital chaplaincy later, I find myself on an unfamiliar path. I have chosen to leave a stressful hospital position.

Writing 101 The Impossible Musical Choice

Day Three: Commit to a Writing Practice.  Today’s Prompt: Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

My initial reaction is: impossible choice. Music is deeply personal and each day offers me the chance to choose new and old favorites again and again.  Additionally, in my work I am always choosing music for rituals, life events and other activities. While I appreciate music that is specified for such things, I believe that popular/secular music has the potential to be used in ritual and try to choose songs that reflect the lives of the people I encounter. All music, even the types that may not resonate with me are offerings to the universe. Art is our act of offering our best selves to the spirit and if you believe; to God or a power greater than ourselves.

Music often expresses what I cannot, in a way I cannot.  Although my undergraduate degree is in music, I utilize music as an avocation or adjunct to my work. I love that a song can transport me to a place I was when I was five or fifteen or twenty five, when the first few notes come drifting through the speakers. Music lulled my children to sleep as I sang “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof  to them at night. Music takes me through seemingly insufferable workouts cheering me on.  It accompanies me on long road trips. It lifts me up when I’m down or allows me some minutes of wallowing when I am processing the events that took me down. In the span of a playlist I can travel back in time and relive favorite moments all through a song. These reasons scratch the surface of why this writing assignment seems challenging to me.

So my twist is that for today, these three songs are the ones I choose from my infinitely overwhelming and exhilarating musical tarot deck. The music speaks for itself. I’m approaching this as a three song reading of my life today. Faith, Hope and Love. Today’s playlist is exactly that.  Tomorrow’s will be different and might include Bright Eyes, Gogol Bordello, and Leonard Bernstein.  I won’t know until I wake up.

Faith: Faith cannot grow without doubt. This song expresses that sentiment for me in a way I hope to embody faith. It is a struggle, a joy, a challenge and an important part of my life.Faith is about kind action and even in my struggles I am no less obligated to try to make positive change. Billiy Joel- River of Dreams

Hope: Warren Zevon is better known for many other songs. To me this song is about hope and about caring for those who care for us.  It is an expression of gratitude. I hear it and sing it as a prayer. Warren Zevon Don’t Let us Get Sick

Love: My Uncle introduced this song and the whole show- Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, to me when I was a teenager. I picked this version, rather than my beloved one from the show because I hear this song as an anthem or hymn and because I still dream of a world where the words of this song become true. Jacques Brel If We Only Have Love

Geography of Place

In Writing 101 today’s assignment is: Choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

“If only there were time enough or word enough or rhyme enough, I would take you there.” Harry Nilsson

How many words have been written to evoke the ideas of place and what it means to us?  Who am I, (an unworthy writer) to describe the place I want to go? Despite my disclaimer I will do what I can to take us there.

In this place, the sun pours in, creating a feeling of warmth and calls up the appearance comfort. How does comfort appear? On a  creamy white plate, It is fresh baked just buttered. Little pools of sun shining on a raft. Through an open window light streams in, lulling me to relax. As if someone extended an irresistible invitation, like the sand at water’s edge on your feet. The perfect mix of coolness on your feet and warmth on your back. A hint of a breeze dancing on your face.

When I am in this place I feel complete surrender and the willingness to engage with all my surroundings. Mind, body and spirit are one. I am completely at home in myself and the world around me. Like a chilled glass of water, I breathe deeply and drink it in. It is the place where sunflowers wave to me in the wind and clocks stop. Although I’ve pictured many images that call summer to mind, in this place, weather doesn’t matter. I could be standing in a soaking rain, but not feel it, or feel it and enjoy it. I am weightless here and held completely by the feelings of strength. It is as if someone is holding me and I trust them so much that I can melt  into the security they offer. I know they will accept and carry me, enveloping me like a warm sweater.

Like Dorothy, we can all go there. How we get there may not be by clicking our heels, but it is a place many of us yearn for.  It is where we are most at home. If I had my choice I would stay there most of the time, but I resign myself to the times I must leave, because those times heighten my feelings of wanting to get back there as soon as I can. When I am stressed or feel the heavy cloak of fear choking me, I go back there, calling up some of the images I’ve shared. While I think of it as my actual home at times, what it really is, is that feeling of being comfortable and having a place in the world. It is love, but love is so many things to so many people I cannot begin to say what it is for each reader.  For myself, I know it is this nearly indescribable feeling that fills me with joy and purpose. It is the feeling of acceptance, trust and harmony.

Because music is often my vehicle for arriving at this place I’ve included links to a couple of songs that take me to this place. I’d love to know what takes my readers to this place so please share your songs, images or memories of home/love/acceptance, should you choose to comment.

“And it’s my mind, and there’s no time when I’m alone.” Lennon and McCartney